Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name

Way back when we were deciding what to name Samara, I already hated playing the name game. It seemed exhausting. Many were too trendy, some too out there, others not out there enough. I believe very strongly in the power of names and I wanted (and still want) my children to have strong names with meaning. I do not believe that all 10 of the children we meet with the same trendy name have the same rate of success. But I do believe that Shaquille O'Neal had no choice but success. That is the power of a unique and memorable name.

My own name is a source of great annoyance. I am SaraMariasha, but have been called Sasha my whole life except for a six year period when I went to a fairly close-minded rural school and thought "Sara" might fly a little better with the cool kids. By the time I moved to Boston in high school, I switched back to Sasha and have remained ever since.

Sometimes I think it is funny when I run into old friends from high school who think I arbitrarily changed my name to Sasha just to sound sexier. This makes me laugh. Most of the time I do not bother to explain the origin or how my family called me Sasha even when I was "Sara" at school for that brief period. Now, I do not even respond to the name Sara. But I always kind of wished my parents had just bitten the bullet and named me Sasha. It would have made my life infinitely easier. Try explaining that your full name is SaraMariasha B-W, but you go by Sasha. See how many times it takes to get the spelling right.

With Sam, the name was perfect. It is part Sara and part Mariel for me and my sister. It starts with an "S" for my mother. It is Hebrew. It has a really cute nickname and is not at all trendy, but also not totally weird. And, best of all, it was the name of the killer in the Ring. Even though some people had problems with it (the same people who helpfully suggested we name our child Judy or Martha. Um, no thanks), the name seemed pre-ordained for our family.

We are not having as much luck with the boy's name.

Long before we started having children, R and I made an agreement. The first child I get the first name, he gets the middle and the last. With the second, I get the middle, he gets the first and last. In Jewish tradition, one cannot name a child after a relative or friend who is still living, so our first child would be named for my mother and the second we were not sure about. Since making that agreement when I was 23, I have lost two grandfathers, both of whom were major influences in my life and who I adored. They were very different from one another, but they both played pivotal roles in shaping who I am. Because of this, I have bent slightly on the "agreement" we struck when I was 23.

My grandfather Joseph had 10 grandchildren. Of those, two of us already have children and my cousin with whom I am very close, already named her son after him, so I feel that he has a namesake. But my other grandfather, Allen, may or may not ever have children named for him. Currently, I am the only grandchild who will procreate at least for the forseeable future.

If I were the man, my son would get my last name and that would be that. The family name is what matters most, after all. So, I am a bit resentful of the fact that if R gets first naming rights, this child will have almost no identity from me (I tend to think middle names are meaningless). With this in mind, I am lobbying hard for the name Atticus. Not only does it start with an A, the literary reference is apt. Throughout his life, many people compared my grandfather to Atticus Finch. He had that same courage, that same desire to stand up to the rednecks and idiots in the town where he lived (and there were many). As a civil rights/first amendment lawyer in a town (Cincinnati) that he once referred to as "combining the finer points of the antebellum South and Nazi Germany," he received his fair share of angry phone calls and death threats. He was a character out of a novel, so full of personality and life. I hope our son inherits his creativity, bravery and vast wit.

I want to name our child for my Zaydee. But everyday, R comes home with meaningless names he wants me to consider: Simon, Marlowe, Cannon. They are all fine names, but I want a name that means something, that resonates across the generations, not just one that I picked out a name book because it sounded good. The name Henry (or Hank as we would call him) does have meaning as it was R's grandfather's name. But he was not close with his grandfather and again, I must revert to the old standby: he gets the family name. That is the most important name, anyway.

We are not seeing eye to eye on this at all. And while all my women friends champion my cause--"you carry him, you birth him, you get to name him"--R is holding firm. So, we have made an agreement. If this baby has the last name Brown, I will give him first and middle rights. If not, we are naming him Atticus Henry. He can sue me if he disagrees. And watch, it may just come to that.


beagle said...

I've been thinking a lot about this name thing. My husband and I can't agree to a girl name for the life of us. I used to insist that if I gave birth that I had more right, but that is a mute point now. I still think enduring IVF gives me more right, but whatever.

A name lasts a lifetime.

I hope you come to an agreement, but I'm also glad we're not the only ones at a stalemate about the issue!

Meanwhile, I'm hoping we get placed with a boy, since there, we do have two we agree on!

Kristi said...

Names are such a complicated and sensitive issue. As you know, my husband argued for Rocco for a boy. I was not a fan. Luckily we settled on names we both liked at the end, but it was getting nasty there for awhile. I do like both your original name and your new name, but given the significance your grandfather had in your life, I think you should win.

Lis Garrett said...

Oh, the joy of choosing a name!

There was a point in our marriage when we were fairly certain we would NOT have a third child. My husband had lobbied for the name "Van" all along (he thought "Van Garrett" sounded "cool"). I said, "If we ever have a third and it turns out to be a boy, you can call him "Van.") Of course, I said it never imagining that we would have another. So when I got pregnant and we were told we were having a boy, I felt sick. I really didn't like the name. To my great relief, the sonogram tech got it wrong, and we ended up having a girl.

All three of our kids have very special middle names. Hannah Grayson was named after my favorite teacher. Jacob Thomas was named for a close family friend. Bridget Pauline was named for my grandfather Paul.

I do like Atticus Henry. Unique. Strong.